Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Installing programs through their native installation steps often makes changes to your PC that allow them to run. There is, however, one type of file that may work.

Can you copy a program file from a computer and run the exe file on the new computer? Like a game file (Diner Dash) on the hard drive C: and copy to another computer? Would then a double-click on the icon that just runs the game, would it work?

In this excerpt from Answercast #15, I go through some of the steps necessary to get programs to run on your computer - steps that require proper installation.

Running an .exe file

Typically, the answer is no.

If a program required a setup (in other words, if you had to install the program on the first machine), then copying the program file from that machine to another machine will typically not work.

Typically, it won't work because the setup process didn't happen. The setup process did things to the original machine that you wouldn't be copying if you copied just the executable file.

The kinds of things that it might be doing are:

  • Making changes to the registry
  • Adding information to the registry
  • Setting up files and folders
  • All sorts of different things depending on the kind of program that you're dealing with.

So the short answer is typically, no, it doesn't work like that.

Install programs properly

The right answer is to go out and get the installer for that program (get the installation media for that program if you have it) and reinstall the program on the new computer.

Portable applications

I do want to mention that there are a class of applications that are called "portable." A portable application meets the criteria that you're looking for.

A portable application does not require a setup. You can simply copy that application from machine to machine; run it and have it work. Sometimes, it just works. Sometimes, it will auto install. But the fundamental premise is that no real setup process is required. Simply copying the .exe file as you've pointed out causes that program to work.

Most of the time, these days, those kinds of programs will explicitly call out the fact that they are portable. In fact, for many popular programs, there are even portable versions. For example, there's a portable Firefox. I think there's a portable Thunderbird.

So that's the kind of a thing... if you're looking for a program that can be moved around that way.

But if you've got an existing program that was installed on a PC, you need to run setup.

Article C5309 - May 7, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 8, 2012 1:40 PM

I have a DOS program - MYM12 - that can be transferred from computer to computer and runs OK on windows versions up to and including XP. Is this true for all DOS programs?

No, unfortunately not. Some, yes. Perhaps even more, on average. But I'll stick with that rule of thumb: if you had to run a setup program to set it up then it's not likely to just be able to be copied.
May 9, 2012 10:31 PM

I tried that a few times and spent several hours wondering what went haywire. "The @%#^&@ thing is right there, why don't it go?"
Now I copy the installer to a folder where I can transfer it to another computer.
Be careful if you do this - you might be violating the law. Some copyrights only allow you to have ONE running copy on ONE computer at a time and you must uninstall the program from the first machine..

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